Friday, November 22, 2013

Perfumer or Perfumista

(Posted 11-22-13 on Facebook Fragrance Friends, a forum on Facebook dedicated to fragrance enthusiasts, as part of a series coordinated by owner Charlotte Scheuer to highlight perfumers and bloggers in the group.)

Perfumer or perfumista? That is the question.

I love perfume: odors that are composed by nature or the human hand.
I love smelling and am grateful for having arrived at a fully conscious awareness of my nose as the sense that guides my life.

I love to create.  With my hands, my head, my heart and my nose.  As a trained architect I transferred the desire to create from the visible realm to the invisible.  A perfume is a construct nonetheless.

Creating perfume is the time I set aside to explore the olfactory world and to be alone.  As a perfumer I enjoy freedoms I could never experience as an architect.  A perfume does not have to respect laws of gravity, or many other laws, for that matter.  
It can be pure expression.  
Pure poetry.  
Pure art.  

I wear perfume.  A lot.  All the time.  If I’m not enjoying the work of others, I’m evaluating my own, studying historical precedents (I have a vintage perfume collection mainly for this purpose) or essences in my organ.  Because I use my body to help me with my work, I eschew scented detergents, skincare or anything that could interfere with what I am wearing.

Creating perfume is at once a guilty pleasure and a profound struggle.  I can’t believe I get to work with such immediate beauty and then I embark on a journey into the unknown filled with unexpected twists and turns, frustrating attempts and unresolved solutions. Discipline helps focus the exploration and imagination allows me to recombine accords so I can resolve a concept.  I know a perfume is completed when it is seamless. 

I never approach the design of a perfume from the same perspective.  Sometimes I build from the ground up, at times from the top down, or laterally, diagonally, spiraling . . . I like to experiment.  I imagine smells first and sketch out initial concepts.  I then blend accords that explore different facets.  Gradually refining my direction, clarifying my intention.  Sometimes an accord blended years ago will fall into place.  I’ve learned to expect and welcome the unexpected.

I’m constantly thinking about my work.  While driving my girls to school, brushing my teeth or cooking a meal (seldom following a recipe, relying instead on my nose).  I’m alway engaged and never bored.  I have sketchbooks everywhere so I can jot down notes; while stopped at a red light, waiting outside a classroom or in the kitchen.  Some of these notes get expanded into articles I post on my Architecture of Perfume blog and others are developed into projects.  Unconscious dreamwork is also part of my process, so I always apply a scent before going to sleep.  Any excuse, right?! 

About 10 years ago I started with just a few essences and gradually built my library into the 300+ organ I have today.  I purchased as many samples as I could in order to study, memorize, and blend in dilution.  I’ve stuck with naturals because I feel an intense connection to them. I work with plants, extracting them for my skincare and my perfumes, so it stands to reason that I would want to combine their essences to make perfume. They are damned hard to work with, but ever so gratifying when they finally decide to play nice.  

I’ve considered expanding into synthetically derived aroma chemicals, if only to educate my nose and add dimension to my knowledge. But I’m still on the fence about using them, as I tend to work with materials I love intuitively.  Synthetics are abstract and can be so persistent in a blend, but I can also see how they can lend nuance or clarify structure.  The Institute for Art and Olfaction hosts monthly open blending nights, so that might be a way for me to explore synthetics while supporting my community.
Speaking of which, community is vital to my work.  Not only have I made amazing friends this past year, but I’ve seen how important it is to support others, which is why I created FRAGments, an indie/artisan perfume event that brings together perfumers, perfume lovers and perfume.  I also frequent Scent Bar, often marvelling at how fragrance allows total strangers the freedom to smell each other, taboo in any other context!

The online community has been very rewarding.  Not only do I vicariously experience every SOTD in my inbox, but I scroll through threads, participating whenever I can.  I subscribe to a gazillion blogs, read any book that comes my way and generally immerse myself as much as possible.  It never feels too much or burdensome.  And there’s always room for another viewpoint, another insight, another perfume.


Ellen said...

Lovely post, Maggie! I think the way you and I work is very similar except that I've embraced synthetics from the start and use them to expand and enhance the naturals that make up the bulk of most of my fragrances. Learning about synthetics is intimidating at first, but definitely worth it.

Maggie Mahboubian said...

I'm sure it will deepen and enhance my practice. I'm totally open to all material explorations, so I will probably dive in soon. Will report back to you Ellen. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!